“Do you not know that a man is not dead if his name is still spoken.” Terry Pratchett
Bereavement is such a personal, raw, individual thing. The loss of a loved one changes your world. Nothing is ever the same again. You’ve lost the presence of someone close to you in your life. There’s the initial shock and disbelief that this could happen.
There’s a lot going on for you internally to process. The why, the how, the why me, the why them. And yet, initially, there’s so much for you to deal with externally. There’s the organising and getting through the funeral, the dealing with the overwhelm of kindness and concern from friends and family, and the coming to terms with what’s happened.
And yet, when all the adrenaline of the funeral has subsided, there seems to be an expectation that there’s a time period when you should be “getting over” the loss of your loved one. There’s a point at around three months after the death when friends may be expecting you to bounce back to your normal self. Bosses expect you to be back to normal functioning. And there’s possibly a part within you that wonders why you’re still hurting so much.
The reality of what’s happened might start to kick in. The world carries on, and yet your life may seem to have paused. This is often the stage when you might seek bereavement counselling.
As a therapist working with bereavement, I find that Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning is a helpful and practical way to manage these expectations. Rather than a linear journey of climbing through stages (impossible, when everyone’s grief has its own timetable) the Worden model looks at the tasks you need to take place, but on your own terms.
Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning
- To accept the reality of the loss.
- To process the pain of grief.
- To adjust to the world without the deceased.
- To find an enduring connection with the deceased in the midst of embarking on a new life.
Looking through Worden’s lens, the focus is not in “getting over” anything. It’s a coming to terms with what has happened and living your life anyway. Bereavement counselling can support you with that process.
Grief, in the initial stages, fills your entire life. It’s what you think about all day, before you go to sleep, and as soon as you awake. If grief were a circle it would fill your entire world. Over time, that circle doesn’t diminish. But your life does grow bigger around that circle. Except there are times, moments – anniversary, birthday, Christmas – when the pain of loss can seem to intensify. Plus, those tiny moments – the smell of your favourite food, the smile of a treasured memory, a photo, a shared experience – may seem to bring your loved one back into your life.
People who have never experienced loss will never know why you will never “get over” your loss. Point 4 of the Worden model suggests that you will always be doing two things: feeling sad and feeling hopeful. You’ll be laden with grief one day, getting on with life the next. Most importantly, you will be renegotiating the relationship you have with the person you’ve lost.
You might be creating a scrapbook full of memories, reminiscing over a collection of photos, or retracing the steps of your favourite haunts. Some people even have conversations with the person they’ve lost, and check in with the wisdom of their loved one when they have to make a crucial decision. All of the above indicate an ongoing relationship with the person they’ve lost. Just because they’re not physically on the planet doesn’t mean you don’t have permission to have a relationship with the bereaved. It changes, of course. But how you negotiate that relationship is up to you. There is no getting over a bereavement. But, you can learn to live with it, process it, and create a new relationship with the memory of the person you have lost.
If you’d like some support through your bereavement, get in touch and we will match you with a counsellor or psychotherapist. We offer sessions seven days a week at our Clapham and Tooting centres. Call 020 8673 4545 or email [email protected]